Did you know that a Russian microbiologist, Dmitri Ivanovsky, discovered the first virus on a tobacco plant in 1892? Bacteria were well known at the time and could be filtered through a fine Chamberland filter candle. Ivanovsky discovered that a pathogen found on a tobacco leaf passed through the filter and the sap still remained infectious. The word ‘virus’ was later coined by another scientist in 1898.
Both viruses and bacteria impact on our health and that of our pets. Let’s take a look at some common diseases in dogs and cats.
Parvo is one disease that is known to strike fear into the hearts of dogs owners, and as the weather starts to warm up, it becomes more prevalent. Parvovirus is a highly contagious viral disease that may be fatal for both young puppies and older dogs.
It is a disease of the intestines which is spread through infected faeces, and in the right conditions can survive for a number of months on various surfaces. Symptoms of the disease include bloody diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, lethargy, poor appetite and dehydration. In severe cases, the heart and bone marrow can be affected. Swift action and the correct treatment will give your dog the best chance of survival. Your vet will provide supportive treatment and your pet will probably have to stay at the vet on an IV drip. Puppies must be vaccinated against parvovirus.
Canine infectious tracheobronchitis is caused by both a virus (more commonly canine parainfluenza virus/adenovirus 2) and bacteria and spreads through direct contact or through airborne droplets. It spreads quickly when dogs are in close proximity to one another – like in a boarding kennel.
The first symptom is a spasmodic, harsh cough that causes the dog to gag and possibly vomit. If you suspect kennel cough, see your vet. He or she will consider your dog’s individual case before deciding on a course of treatment. Antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication and something to help alleviate the cough may be prescribed. You will also need to keep your dog away from other dogs for about one to two weeks. If you send your dogs to the kennels quite often, your vet may suggest a vaccine for kennel cough.
Distemper in animals is similar to an upper respiratory infection in humans, but it also affects the gastro-intestinal system and, in the latter stages, the nervous system in animals. It can be difficult to treat and is often fatal. Distemper is highly contagious and is spread through nasal and eye discharge by indirect or direct contact with the pet or its belongings, or through the air. Symptoms are vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, nasal discharge, coughing, listlessness and seizures. The virus also attacks various organs which may result in permanent damage even if the dog recovers. Treatment is supportive through an IV drip to replace lost fluids and medication to help keep the dog comfortable. Distemper can be prevented through a vaccine.
Cat flu (snuffles)
Cat flu is caused by a virus – the calicivirus or feline herpes virus. Bacteria may also contribute to the infection. Snuffles is spread through direct contact between cats through nasal discharge and saliva when cats groom themselves, or through food dishes, beds and other surfaces. Some cats are carriers of the virus – they don’t have symptoms but can shed the virus.
Symptoms are similar to those seen in human flu – sneezing, nasal and eye discharge, fever, lethargy and decreased appetite as the cat is not able to smell her food. Some cats will also develop mouth ulcers which can make eating painful. Snuffles is more common in kittens, as their immune systems are still immature.
Your vet will provide supportive treatment for your cat – possibly antibiotics, medication for congestion and eye drops. A number of vaccines for cats contain the viruses that are responsible for snuffles, so always make sure your cats are vaccinated.
Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV)
Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) is a viral infection in cats, more common between the ages of one and five years of age. It is transmitted through saliva when cats groom each other, fight or share food and/or water bowls. Signs of the disease include poor body condition, depression and weakness. FeLV causes immuno suppression (a weakening of the immune system), which predisposes the cat to secondary infections and can also cause cancerous growths in the respiratory system, gastrointestinal system and eyes. Your vet will diagnose the disease with a quick blood test (snap test) and this will be confirmed with a lab test. Your vet may also suggest a re-test within three or four months. Antibiotics may be required to treat secondary infections and the cat must stay indoors to prevent the virus spreading to other cats. The disease can be prevented through a vaccine.
Other spring dangers
Dog parks and social engagements If you’re getting out now that the weather is warmer, your pets will be coming into contact with other pets. Make an appointment to see your vet if your dog is due for his annual check-up. All vaccinations must be up to date.
Plants When planning your spring garden, always make sure that the plants you choose are safe for a garden where animals play. Some plants are highly toxic to animals and can make your pet very ill if he ingests the material. Some plants to avoid are ficus, daffodil, honeysuckle, jade, Easter lily, iris, pear seeds, English ivy, almonds, lily of the valley, poinsettia, cherry plant, apricots, wisteria, hydrangea, jasmine, philodendron, yucca, elephant ears, gladiolus and cyclamen.
Internal parasites If you haven’t dewormed your pet in the last three months, now is the time to do so. Internal parasites (worms) live inside the body of the host and feed off partially digested food or blood. Most take up residence in the intestines, but some may migrate to other parts of the body. Worms can pose a serious health risk to pets, either by stealing important nutrients from them or by causing life-threatening anaemia due to blood loss. Tapeworm, roundworm, hookworm, whipworms and Spirocerca lupi, a nematode that migrates to the oesophagus and forms a nodule in the wall, are found in South Africa. Speak to your vet about a suitable deworming product for your pets.
Gardening products If you treat your lawn or use fertilisers, insecticides or pesticides in your garden, keep your pets well away. Never use snail bait in a garden with pets – it’s highly toxic. Cocoa mulch is best avoided if you have dogs. Some dogs will eat it and, like chocolate, it’s toxic for them.
Allergies Humans react to allergens like pollen, mould and dust in the air with a runny, itchy nose and sneezing. Animals react to allergens with an itchy skin. A dog with an allergy may chew and lick his paws, rub his face and scratch, scratch, scratch! All this chewing and scratching often leave bald, red patches on the body as skin becomes red and inflamed. Allergies may be environmental or they may be related to food allergies or fleas. If you are concerned about your pet, see your vet for an examination.